Bee Population Decline…Bad News For Bees!
Two new studies confirm that common pesticides are scrambling the circuits of bees’ brains. Researchers report that certain neonicotinoids and an organophosphate pesticide — particularly in combination — interfere with the insects’ ability to learn, smell or remember, all critical capacities for foraging honey bees.
The new studies add to a growing body of evidencepointing to pesticides as a key driver to the dramatic losses in bee colonies reported by beekeepers.
The research, reported in the journals Nature Communications and the Journal of Experimental Biology, observed an immediate “epileptic-type activity” when bees were exposed to neonicotinoids, followed by neural inactivation “where the brain goes quiet and cannot communicate any more,” as Dr. Christopher Connelly of the University of Dundee in Scotland described to BBC News.
The effects were more pronounced when the bees were exposed to both neonicotinoids and the organophosphate insecticide, coumaphos.
Momentum builds for pollinator protection
Earlier this month, PAN joined partners and beekeepers to take EPA to court demanding better protections for pollinators. And today, the New York Times featured beekeepers expressing concern about neonicotinoids and the “soup of pesticides” contributing to the dramatic decline in healthy hives.
EPA regulators have indicated that they may accelerate the review process for neonicotinoids, which are currently scheduled for evaluation in 2018. Given current rates of honeybee losses, it’s becoming clear that taking action on this timeline could be much too late.
Honeybees, especially older ones, can discriminate well between different odors. Older bees tend to cluster with other bees that smell like them. This allows these older bees, who forage, increasing the likelihood they will bring back an infectious agent from the outside, to restrict disease among them.
But things change once they become sick.
Bees Need Our Help…Or Else!
The health of honeybees has been declining since the 1980s, as a result of new pathogens and pests, as well as well as to the mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, in which worker bees suddenly disappear from a beehive or colony, and never return.
We use the bee colony as a model of complex social structure to see how a disease might be expected to spread in a social group. You can understanding of the basic processes involved in spreading a disease. Also, you cannot obviously examine these processes from an experimental standpoint in humans.
Just One Type Of Crop Can Change The World Food Situation
The U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show California produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds. “Almonds are 99 percent dependent upon the honey bees in February to pollinate their trees,” said San Diego beekeeper Alan Mikolich. “Without the bees they get no crop.” The United States could lose $15 billion worth of crops, including California almonds, without bees to pollinate them.
The total number of managed honey bee colonies has decreased from 5 million in the 1940s to only 2.5 million today. At the same time, the call for hives to provide pollination services has continued to increase. This means honey bee colonies are being transported over longer distances than ever before.
Declines in honey bee colony health were exacerbated in the 1980s with the arrival of new pathogens and pests. The arrival of Varroa and tracheal mites into the United States during the 1990s created additional stresses on honey bees.
Colony losses from CCD are a very serious problem for beekeepers. Annual losses from the winter of 2006-2011 averaged about 33 percent each year, with a third of these losses attributed to CCD by beekeepers. The winter of 2011-2012 was an exception, when total losses dropped to 22 percent.
A 1-year drop is too short a time period to count as definitive improvement in honey bee colony survivorship. At least 2 to 3 years of consistently lower loss percentages is necessary before it is possible to be sure that CCD is on the decline.
Bee Population Decline…Bad News For Bees Video
Bee Population Decline…Bad News For Bees. Learn More From CBS News!
For the last eight years, bee populations have been in freefall. But this year is worse by far. All of a sudden we open up the box and there’s no bees in that box,” said a California bee farmer. They become disoriented, can’t find their way back to the hives, and die in the fields. Nationwide beekeepers say they’ve lost on average 40-50 percent of their hives. Pender blames a new class of pesticide – neonicotinoids — based on nicotine, which went into wide use in 2005.
Pender said he had seen the neonicotinoids actually have an impact on his bee population. “When we put our bees next to fields where they use the neonicotinoides, our bees die,” he said. Earlier pesticides were sprayed on crops. Neonicotinoids can be coated on seeds and infused through the plant as it grows. They’re very effective against harmful insects.
When CBS News asked the largest pesticide industry group whether bees are harmed as well, CropLife America gave us this statement: “Ongoing research and field studies have consistently found no adverse effects on colonies when …neonicotinoids are applied…according to label directions.
Recently, the European Union announced a major maneuver geared to protect struggling honeybee populations: a two-year ban on neonicotinoids, a super-ubiquitous class of nicotine-derived pesticides that numerous scientific studies have ID’d as being one of several primary contributors — if not the key contributor —to colony collapse disorder. The restrictions will only be lifted if strong scientific evidence disproving the apiarian-adverse properties of the chemicals emerges.
In Brussels, 15 EU member states (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and agricultural heavyweights Germany and Poland) voted in support of the restrictions while eight member states opposed them including Italy and, most controversially, the U.K. where the grassroots movement to ban the pesticides was perhaps the loudest and most celebrity-ridden (as was the pro-chemical lobbying). Four member states (Ireland, Lithuania, Finland, and Greece) abstained during the appeal committee vote. During an earlier round of voting on the measure, the U.K. had abstained.
Summed up Tonio Borg of Malta, the European Commission’s Health and Consumer honcho: “Although a majority of Member States now supports our proposal, the necessary qualified majority was not reached. The decision now lies with the Commission. Since our proposal is based on a number of risks to bee health identified by the European Food Safety Authority, the Commission will go ahead with its text in the coming weeks. I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion annually to European agriculture, are protected.”
Friends of the Earth’s Andrew Pendleton, by far one of the more vocal campaigners in the crusade against neonicotinoids, appeared mighty pleased with the two-year suspension: “This decision is a significant victory for common sense and our beleaguered bee populations. Restricting the use of these pesticides could be an historic milestone on the road to recovery for these crucial pollinators.”
Although a major victory, the landmark decision shouldn’t come as too big of surprise. Earlier this year, the European Food Safety Commission effectively set things into motion when it singled out neonicotinoids as posing an “unacceptable danger” to honeybees, a move that environmental organizations heralded as the “death knell” for the chemical nerve agents. Soon after, two major British home and garden retailers, B&Q and Wickes, announced that they would be yanking consumer gardening productscontaining neonicotinoids from shelves.
Bayer CropScience, the agrochemical subgroup of German aspirin giant Bayer AG, is a primary manufacturer of both imidacloprid and clothianidin. A spokesperson for the company went into full-on “none-too-pleased” mode yesterday: “Bayer remains convinced neonicotinoids are safe for bees, when used responsibly and properly … clear scientific evidence has taken a back-seat in the decision-making process.”
It was pretty much the same message from Swiss biochemical company and thiamethoxam manufacturer, Syngenta: “The proposal is based on poor science and ignores a wealth of evidence from the field that these pesticides do not damage the health of bees. Instead of banning these products, the commission should now take the opportunity to address the real reasons for bee health decline: disease, viruses and loss of habitat and nutrition.”
So what does all this mean for nature’s most prolific pollinators living on this side of the pond, where domesticated bee populations have reached a 50-year low and continue to fall? As of now, nothing.
As I’ve previously reported, despite continuously mounting pressure from beekeepers and environmental groups, it appears that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a long ways off from banning neonicotinoids in both commercial agriculture applications and in home gardening products, although it does recognize pesticide poisoning as one of the many potential causes of CCD and is currently re-evaluating the insecticide. That evaluation should be completed … in five years. (Such urgency!)
In the meantime, the EPA is being sued for “its failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides” by a coalition of four beekeeping groups and five environmental and consumer groups including the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Health.
Last summer, the EPA rejected a petition to stop the sale of clothianidin, one of the pesticides that the E.U. is now banning. Clothianidin has been on the market since 2003, despite the fact that a leaked memo revealed that EPA scientists found a Bayer-produced study of the pesticide’s effects inadequate. EPA now plans to complete its evaluation of neonicotinoid safety in 2018.